The Oral Examination

oral examination

All students taking the MA in English sit for a one-hour oral examination. The thesis student defends his or her thesis orally; the non-thesis student takes a comprehensive oral examination over the same three areas covered in the written comps. 

For both thesis and non-thesis students, three members of the graduate faculty examine the candidate, one serving as chair of the examining committee. Students who fail a section of the oral exam have a single opportunity to retake that section. 


After passing the written comprehensive examination and completing the scholarly or creative thesis, the candidate must defend that thesis orally. The examination committee comprises the three members of the student’s thesis reading committee. 

The defense of a scholarly thesis typically emphasizes the genesis, critical methodologies, and findings of the thesis and the value of those findings. 

The defense of a creative thesis typically emphasizes the genesis, rationale, and methods for the project and requires that the candidate explain her or his aesthetic. 


oral examination 2

After successfully passing all three areas of the written comprehensive examination, the non-thesis student sits for a one-hour oral examination over the same three areas, usually scheduled for a date shortly after the written comps. The Director of Graduate Studies appoints the three examiners from among faculty area specialists; one serves as committee chair. 

As with the written comprehensive examination, the examiners ask that the candidate demonstrate his or her broad understanding of topics in English language, literature, and writing disciplines. Typically, each of the three examiners asks questions for approximately fifteen minutes; this initial round of questions is followed by a fifteen-minute “redirect,” during which the committee members follow up on earlier questions or ask new ones that have arisen during the conversation. 

Should you fail an area of the oral examination, you will have one opportunity to retake that area, but you will have to wait until the following term, during which you will have to be enrolled in at least three graduate credit hours. The entire committee will reconvene, but only the examiner or examiners whose area(s) you failed will ask questions. 

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